In a surprise announcement, the chief executive of ESSENCE has announced that she will be stepping down from her post at the end of the month. Michelle Ebanks had served in a top leadership role with the iconic media outlet and brand marketed to Black women since the early 2000s before the announcement was made Monday.
Ebanks was expected “to pursue other opportunities and to join the board of Essence Ventures, parent company of ESSENCE” and “advise on strategic partnerships and new growth opportunities, including the development of a diversity and inclusion capability that supports the advancement of people of color in the workplace,” according to a press release posted online Monday afternoon.
“When I joined ESSENCE, I could not have imagined this extraordinary journey and how it would transform me as a person and as a leader,” Ebanks said in a statement. “I will always be grateful for the opportunity, but most importantly for the impact that ESSENCE continues to have on tens of millions of Black women globally. Since I began, my priority has been to position ESSENCE for its next phase, and we’ve done that. The brand has been reestablished as 100% Black-owned and is well-positioned for continued success through what is a remarkable time of transformation and reinvention.”
Ebanks was front and center in 2018 for the historic acquisition of Essence Communications from Time Inc. by an independent Black-owned company, making the brand 100 percent Black-owned by Richelieu Dennis, the founder and chairperson of Essence Ventures, and led by a Black female executive team with an ownership stake.
“Richelieu is strongly committed to ESSENCE’s mission of serving Black women deeply – as well as empowering equality, investing in community and expanding ESSENCE into the global media, technology and commerce business that it has always had the potential to be,” Ebanks said as part of her same statement on Monday. “Over the past couple of years, I’ve often called ESSENCE a 50-year-old start-up, with a richness of legacy and poised to leverage new and unlimited opportunity in ways never done before. As the brand celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, I am as excited to see what the future holds for the next 50 years.”
Under Ebanks’ leadership, ESSENCE focused on growing its digital businesses and expanding its presence in the international marketplace to reach women who have shared interests and aspirations. Its flagship magazine launched in 1970 and became a hallmark of Black female empowerment and a cultural icon. ESSENCE now reaches an audience of more than 16 million people across multiple platforms, including digital, video, TV and social media. Ebanks was also credited with helping the annual ESSENCE Festival to blossom to such a lucrative success that the press release said has had “more than $4 billion in economic impact since it began” 25 years ago.